Homily to Country draws attention to the ecological decline of the Baaka / Darling River, Australia’s third longest river. The river is in poor health, from over-allocation of its waters to irrigation pollution from pesticide runoff and prolonged drought. The river has a high salt content and declining water quality.
In early 2020 French artist JR met locals who had been forced to burn their families’ commercial orchards due to a lack of irrigation flows, JR also met with a senior Baakandji Elder and spokesperson for the Baaka/ Darling River.
The Darling River has been known as the Baaka by the Barkindji people for thousands of years. The NSW Geographical Names Board 2019 began consultation to formally recognise Baaka as a dual name for the river.
For the Baakandji, the health of the river is inextricably and directly related to the health of their culture. The river offers food, fibre, shelter, and a central proposition around which to structure culture. In 2020 large sections of the river ran dry, endangering the surrounding ecosystem.
In late February 2021, a procession was held at Lake Cawndilla, near Menindee, to raise awareness about the decline of the ecosystem of the river. Portraits of impacted community members were printed on 30-metre-long tarpaulins and carried through the desolated landscape.
As part of NGV Triennial (Melbourne), JR presents “Homily to Country, 2020”, a monumental work resulting from the project. Conceived as an outdoor chapel, it consists of a scaffold structure and a printed façade, on which five stained glass windows are nestled. Each of the windows presents portraits of the Elder of the Baakandji and the farmers JR met.
Homily to Country is a continuation of the Omelia Contadina project, initiated in Italy in 2019 by JR and Alice Rohrwacher, which highlights farmers facing the same issues: protect their environment and live decently from their work.
Photo Copyright JR-ART.NET